Monthly Archives: August 2017

Fighting procrastination: your life in squares

Yesterday I watched a hilarious TED talk about procrastination by Tim Urban. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post I’ve always struggled with procrastination and it’s effect has been amplified since I’ve been living with depression, so this really struck a chord with me. However the bit that had the biggest impact on me was right at the end where he makes a passing mention of the idea of giving yourself a constant reminder of the fact that the time you have is finite by using a diagram of your life split into weeks, assuming you live to 90. I thought this was such a good idea that I printed it out and stuck it on the wall on a blackboard so I can write my goals for the current week next to it.

In a way it’s quite daunting and makes me feel under a fair bit of pressure having my life laid out in such a stark way, but hopefully it’s going to help me get things done. It also really brings home the thought that you don’t actually know how many weeks you have left. It brings a whole new meaning to the term “deadline”. The more hopeful and less scary perspective on it is that all the people who’ve achieved great things also started with the same blank grid of squares, and how you choose to use yours really is up to you. Once I’d filled in the squares for the weeks I’ve lived so far I couldn’t help thinking it looked a bit like a Windows Defrag screen.

You can find more info on this concept and get hold of your own grid on Tim’s blog.

Internet addiction: admitting you’ve got a problem

This was written as a draft in May 2017.

It’s with a vague sense of irony that I find myself writing about this online. Spoiler: This is probably going to make for uncomfortable reading for most of you.  I recently finally admitted to myself that I’m addicted to the Internet. When I really think about it, it’s probably been true since I was about 15 (I’m 35 now). The realisation really struck me when I was watching a brilliant talk by Simon Sinek called Why Leaders Eat Last. Incidentally I highly recommend watching this as several ideas in it have had a positive impact on my life. Anyway, in the video he talks about smart phone addiction, and although I don’t have a smart phone the principle is the same and it really resonated with me:

“We’re told that if you wake up in the morning and you crave a drink, you might be an alcoholic. If you wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is check your phone before you even get out of bed, you might be an addict. If you walk from room to room in your own apartment holding your phone, you might be an addict. If you’re driving in your car and you get a text, and your phone goes beep (we hate email, but we love the beep, the buzz, the ding) You’ll be there in 10 minutes, and yet you have to look at it right now, you might be an addict. If you read it and it says ‘are you free for dinner next Thursday’ and you have to reply immediately, you can’t wait 10 minutes, you might be an addict”.

I’d encourage anyone reading this to think about how close the description above is to their own behaviour and consider whether you may have a problem. I’d guess that the vast majority of people have some level of addiction to their phone, whether they are prepared to admit it or not. I made a conscious decision several years ago not to get a smart phone, because although I hadn’t admitted my addiction I knew that I spent more hours on the Internet at home than I’d like to count and decided that having the Internet in my pocket as well wouldn’t be good for me.

As with any addiction, admitting you’ve got a problem is the first step. Admitting it to myself was a start, but saying it out loud to someone else was what made it feel real, and felt quite liberating. Being aware of it makes it possible to manage it and try to limit my time online, and I find myself much more likely to have a moment of saying to myself “what am I doing?” when I’m just killing time in the Facebook rabbit hole. Some days I do better than others, but I’m making progress.

For about 10 years now, I’ve found it really helpful to spend about 15 minutes at the start of the day just sitting quietly and letting my mind wander. It helps me remember things I need to do, people I’ve not spoken to for a while and generally gives me a lot more clarity and helps me have a better life. Despite how often I imagine that I do this, in reality I’ve mostly only done it every few weeks, but since I admitted my problem I’ve been doing it much more often as I make a conscious effort to do it rather than reaching for my laptop as soon as I’ve had my breakfast.

The other realisation I’ve had is that an Internet or phone addiction is actually an addiction to dopamine (always looking for the next hit, the next email, the next comment or like) and that the other thing you can get dopamine from is crossing things off a to-do list. Given how much spending time online has stopped me getting stuff done over the years, that feels kind of poetic. As someone who runs their own business this has been a really powerful realisation, because starting the day by checking my Facebook can easily be the start of getting nothing useful done all day.

Thinking back I do feel a bit sad for how much of my life I’ve wasted faffing about online. As someone who’s always struggled with social interaction it’s a safe and familiar environment where nothing is risked. Over the years it’s increasingly become my default when I have nothing specific to do, or often even when I do have something to do or somewhere I could be. With Facebook specifically I feel like it’s a big red herring, as it makes you feel like you are in touch with people but in reality you are mostly not having any kind of meaningful connection or interaction with people, and in my case it’s sucked up so much of my time that it’s actually made me a lot less likely to get out and see people in person and have those real life conversations and meaningful connections. So much for a “social network”!


Depression: Every day is a battle

I wrote this as a draft in Oct 2016 and it’s taken until now for me to have the courage to post it.

One of the most frustrating things about living with depression is other people not knowing, not understanding, or forgetting that every day is a battle for you. Sometimes a few hours, a whole day or even most of a week are a little less of a battle, but it’s still a battle.

I think one of the reasons I spend so much time fiddling about on the internet is that it’s safe and familiar, nothing is risked. I find it a real struggle to initiate being sociable with my friends, and often even to go to things I’ve been invited to. This avoidance of, or failure to be sociable is self perpetuating because if people don’t see me for a while, through no fault of theirs it really is a case of “out of sight out of mind”. My experience is that the less you initiate things the less people think of you as someone to be invited to things, it’s almost as if everyone has an unconsious “up for stuff” flag for everyone in their social circle which switches off if the flag isn’t used for a while. For me that’s the really hard part, because even before I suffered with depression I was quite disorganised, which is now amplified, and now there’s the added problem (which I think everyone feels to an extent) of avoiding initiating things because “what if no-one comes”. Also a lot of the time I’d just like to see someone for a cuppa and a chat, but always feel like I need to suggest an activity in order to spend time with people. So what seems to happen to me a lot is I get to a day or an evening where I have free time and either want to or feel the need to be sociable, but have nothing planned in advance. So I end up just texting people saying “what are you up to today/tonight?” which often takes a fair amount of mental effort, which is often only overcome because I’ve been spending too much time on my own and have got to a point where I feel desperate for company. The thing is, people like being invited to things, but are probably not so keen to be effectively asked “I need something to do, what are you doing that I can join in with?” because let’s be honest it’s not very flattering to think that someone is contacting you because they’re bored, rather than because they want to see you.

It also doesn’t help being single at 35, for two reasons. The first is that as I’m sure most people who are single will tell you, when you have friends who are couples, they tend to do things together with other couples, like have dinner together for example. They’re not purposely excluding anyone, it’s just sort of the natural order of things. The second is that if you are in a relationship all this stuff is easier because you automatically have someone to do things with.

I’m not really sure where I was going with this, I started with an idea but I seem to have gone off at a tangent. Ah well, I think most of it was worth saying. As is probably obvious from this post I’ve decided to take this blog in a far more personal direction, partly because I thought it would help me to write things down and partly because any small contribution I can make improving general understanding of depression has got to be a positive thing.

What’s this blog about anyway?

Over the last 10 or so years I’ve made a few attempts to start blogs that were themed to cover a particular aspect of my life, or subject that I wanted to talk about. For a while I had a personal blog where I intended to write about silly subjects and politics and a professional blog where I covered what I knew about social media and other related subjects and tried to stay well clear of politics. It turned out I found this categorisation too restrictive, and when I did decide to write something I spent ages writing and re-writing it trying to strike the right tone for who I imagined my audience were. Which is one of the (many) reasons why I rarely wrote on either. I also spent a lot of time thinking about what each of them should be called, as it seems to be the done thing in blogging to give your site an amusing or interesting name that suggests it’s theme.

In the end I decided that as someone who thinks about a wide range of things all the time, only way I was going to be able to express myself in any useful way was to not have a theme and just use my name for the site title. That way I can just write about whatever I feel like as the mood takes me, and here we are.

A series of small tasks

Since a couple of months ago when I tried to (almost) give up social media and generally spend less time on the internet, I’ve been watching a lot of TED talks. While there have been several that have stood out enough to be bookmarked one I watched this evening that particularly stood out was a talk by Stephen Duneier about how anything you might want to achieve can be broken down in to a series of small tasks and that you can achieve amazing things by just making small adjustments to your daily routine. He started on this path when he was in school and struggled to get good grades because he couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than 5-10 mins at a time. As soon as he stopped trying to fight his nature and broke everything down into small tasks that he knew were short enough for him to complete, he started to do much better, and has continued to achieve great things using this method throughout his life. As someone who has always struggled with procrastination I found this really inspiring. It’s really worth 15 mins of your time.

So my first change to my routine which I hope will help me to get more exercise, was to park my van about a mile from my house. The plan is that I’ll keep parking it in the same place and cycle to and from it. Although this will only directly result in me getting a little more exercise, the idea is also that when I want to go somewhere that’s not for work that I’ll be forced to cycle, or at least that it will be less of a faff to just cycle rather than cycle to the van and drive. I have a lot of trouble parking my van near my house anyway, and often can’t remember which street I parked it on, so at least this way I’ll always know where it is.

By coincidence, a couple of hours later (after I went to the pub for a pint of cider before cycling home) when I was looking for something else that had little to do with achieving my goals I discovered a blog post by Jeff Attwood where he advocates achieving success in your life by writing a blog regularly to a schedule that’s realistic for you, hence this post. I was especially encouraged by him saying that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you’re doing just write something and you’ll get better at it the more you do it.

How long my van stays parked away from the house, time will tell. Maybe writing about it on here will help me stick to it.